Poem of the Righteous Sufferer

The Babylonian Job  

Ancient Mesopotamian literature shows the eventual rejection of the pre-moral beliefs and practices that are described in epic tales and early hymns. The following lines from a hymn to the great Sumerian god Eniii reflect the once close relationship between gods and mortals that was based Upon material considerations of "gifts of sacrifice":

 Oh Enlil, lord that knowest fate, who of thyself art glorious in Sumer , Father Enlil, lord of lands,

Father Enlil, lord of unerring word,

Father Enlil, shepherd of the dark headed people,...

Father Enlil, with song majestically we come, the presents of the

ground are offered to thee as gifts of sacrifice ....

Father Enlil, accept the sacred offerings, the many offerings."

 Other hymns, however, are filled with lamentation over the loss of this once stable and profitable relationship. They generally lay the blame on the gods who have decided, states one typical text, "to bring on other days, annihilate the plan and-while the storms foamed like a flood-subvert the ways of Sumer ."

The "Poem of the Righteous Sufferer," which exists in both Sumerian and Babylonian, apparently reflects the beginning of this great change in Outlook. It tells of a man who has lost his prosperous and exalted position and suffers from ever-increasing afflictions despite his strict adherence to established religious practices - sacrifices, supplications, incantations, and magic. (His religiosity clearly seems to be ceremonial and cultic rather than ethical.) Forsaken by gods and men, he moves from perplexity and doubt to blank despair. The greater part of the poem, however, is a defense of the whole system of traditional doctrine and ritual. It glorifies Marduk, the great god of Babylon , who restored the sufferer to happiness and prosperity. In the conclusion, only a few lines of which are given here, the implied answer to skepticism is that the evils which afflict the pious are only temporary.

 

“WHAT STRANGE CONDITIONS EVERY WHERE!”  

My god has forsaken me and disappeared,

My goddess has failed me and keeps at a distance.

The benevolent angel who walked beside me has departed,

My protecting spirit has taken to flight, and is seeking someone else.

My strength is gone; my appearance has become gloomy;

My dignity has flown away, my protection made off....

The king, the flesh of the gods, the sun of his peoples,

His heart is enraged with me, and cannot be appeased.

The courtiers plot hostile action against me,

They assemble themselves and give utterance to impious words.... They combine against me in slander and lies.

My lordly mouth have they held as with reins,

So that 1, whose lips used to prate, have become like a mute.

My sonorous shout is reduced to silence,

My lofty head is bowed down to the ground,

Dread has enfeebled my robust heart....

If I walk the street, cars are pricked;

If I enter the palace, eyes blink.

My city frowns on me as an enemy;

Indeed my land is savage and hostile.

My friend has become foe,

My companion has become a wretch and a devil....

As I turn round, it is terrible, it is terrible;

My ill luck has increased, and I do not find the right.

I called to my god, but he did not show his face,

I prayed to my goddess, but she did not raise her head.

ne diviner with his inspection has not got to the root of the matter, Nor has the dream priest with his libation elucidated my case.

I sought the favour of the zaqiqu-spirit, but he did not enlighten me; And the incantation priest with his ritual did not appease the divine wrath against me.

What strange conditions everywhere!

When I look behind, there is persecution, trouble.

 

“PRAYER WAS DISCRETION, SACRIFICE MY RULE"

 Like one who has not made libations to his god,

Nor invoked his goddess at table,

Does not engage in prostration, nor takes cognizance of bowing down; From whose mouth supplication and prayer is lacking,

Who has done nothing on holy days, and despised Sabbaths,

Who in his negligence has despised the gods' rites,

Has not taught his people reverence and worship,

But has eaten his food without invoking his god,

And abandoned his goddess by not bringing a flour offering,

Like one who has grown torpid and forgotten his lord,

Has frivolously sworn a solemn oath by his god, like such a one do I appear.

For myself, I gave attention to supplication and prayer:  

To me prayer was discretion, sacrifice my rule.

The day for reverencing the god was a joy to my heart;

ne day of the goddess's procession was profit and gain to me.

The king's prayer - that was my joy,

And the accompanying music became a delight for me.

I instructed my land to keep the god's rites,

And provoked my people to value the goddess's name.

I made praise for the king like a god's,

And taught the populace reverence for the palace.

I wish I knew that these things were pleasing to one's god!

 

WHO KNOWS THE WILL OF THE GODS?"

What is proper to oneself is an offence to one's god,

What in one's own heart seems despicable is proper to one's god.

Who knows the will of the gods in heaven?

Who understands the plans of the underworld gods?

Where have mortals learnt the way of a god?

He who was alive yesterday is dead today.

For a minute he was dejected, suddenly he is exuberant.

One moment people are singing in exaltation,

Another they groan like professional mourners.

Their condition changes like opening and shutting the legs.

When starving they become like corpses,

When replete they vie with the gods.

In prosperity they speak of scaling heaven,

Under adversity they complain of going down to hell.

I am appalled at these things; I do not understand their significance....

   

CONCLUSION: "MARDUK RESTORED ME"

 The Lord took hold of me,

The Lord set me on my feet,

The Lord gave me life,

He rescued me from the pit,

He summoned me from destruction,

[... ] he pulled me from the Hubur river,

[... ) he took my hand ....

Marduk, he restored me ....

The Babylonians saw how Marduk restores to life, And all quarters extolled his greatness: ...

Mortals, as many as there are, give praise to Marduk!